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Chapter Twelve

“Are you learning to relax?” Roxanne asked as soon as Tully walked into the office, Libby at her side.

“It would seem I’ve quit smoking, so I’m anything but relaxed.”

“That reminds me.” Roxanne ripped open the box in her hand. “Lift your sleeve for me.” She held up one of the patches Bailey had called about. Her eyes slid by Libby and she made no comment about her presence.

“Unless you can roll that up and light it, I suggest you stay away from me.”

“Uh-huh.” Roxanne just handed the patch to Libby. “Pasco got here a few minutes ago. I put him in your office.”

“Pasco?” Libby asked, poring over the instructions on where best to put the patch.

“Pasco St. John,” Tully said. “I use him to do all my investigative work.”

“I’m sure he can wait a few minutes.” Libby held up the patch. “I’ll be gentle, and it’ll make you feel better.”

Once inside her office, Tully made the introductions and asked Pasco to step out briefly so that Libby could minister to her. Wishing she’d kept her New Year’s resolution to work out, Tully rolled her sleeve up as high as Libby needed.

“Thank you,” she said as Libby’s warm fingers smoothed the small square flat against the back of her bicep. She couldn’t determine whether she was tingling because she’d bared her arm to Libby, because Libby had touched her so gently, or because she needed a cigarette.

“I’ll be out at my desk if you need anything.” Libby stopped at the door and added, “Thanks again for the pool house.”

“Get to work,” Tully ordered in a joking tone and laughed. “Rox, send Pasco back in, please.”

Tully thought about the man she would be working with on this case. Pasco St. John hailed from a long line of law-enforcement professionals, but had chosen to follow his father into his private investigating firm. Tully had known the nearly sixty-year-old jokester almost from her first day at Barnes, Corey, and Badeaux.

He had let her know that he enjoyed working with her because she knew exactly what information she was after and provided enough of a starting point to help him find it. And he loved to win as much as she did.

“Tell me you have something exciting for me to do. I’ve been nothing but bored out of my gourd lately,” he said in lieu of a greeting.

“I’ve got sex, betrayal, murder, and intrigue, bored man.”

He rubbed his hands together and settled into the chair across from her desk. “Whatcha got?”

Tully handed over the Hebert file, along with everything she knew about Kara Nicolas, then waited. Since Pasco was a voracious reader with close to a photographic memory, it wouldn’t take long.

“Sounds like a fairly common procedure, nothing the kid should’ve been dying over.”

“Give me the usual workup on Dr. Nicolas. I’m talking from the time the doctor slapped her ass to what she had for breakfast this morning.”

His eyebrows spiked. “You sound mad as a wet hen. Are you not telling me something?”

The nagging want for a cigarette was abating, and Tully expelled a sigh of gratitude that Bailey had thought of the damn patch. “We’ve worked together long enough for you to realize that some cases affect me more than others. I want to win this one for the Heberts. But you’re right, there’s something more.”

With a clear detachment from her feelings, Tully told him about Jessica’s new relationship with Kara. She still couldn’t talk about how she knew for sure just how close they were. Pasco listened, nodding every so often.

“I’m surprised you aren’t frothing at the mouth. You want to bring this woman down because you want Jess back?”

“Not even if she came with the ability to spit gold out of her ass.” Tully let some of her control go. “Once you meet Elijah and Simone Hebert, you’ll know why I want to win.”

“But bringing this bitch down will satisfy that part of your soul that wants to skin her slowly, am I right?”

“There is that.” Tully laughed as she found a copy of the file she’d given him in the pile on her desk. They spent the rest of the morning mapping out a course of action for gathering all the information Tully wanted. She gave Pasco a final set of directions and shook his hand as she showed him out. He had only been gone for a few moments when Libby stuck her head in and asked if she had plans for lunch.

“Not at this time.” Tully sat on the edge of her desk and smiled at her. “The staff treating you all right?”

“I was helping Jo and Frank with some research. They just left for lunch.”

Tully knew Frank and Josephine weren’t rude, so their not inviting Libby to go with them surprised her. “Were they meeting a client?”

“No, they’re just going down to the deli. They invited me, but I, uh, decided to see if you were free. If you have other plans—”

“Do I get to pick the place?” Tully noticed Libby blush, and the redder she flamed, the wider Tully smiled.

“Sure.” Libby’s voice broke.

Tully left her jacket in the office and walked Libby down the street toward the river. She rarely left the office to eat, but something about Libby’s innocent air was hard to say no to. Four blocks later they were approaching Magazine Street, and Tully grabbed Libby’s hand before she could cross.

“We’re going this way.” She pointed to the left.

Liborio, a Cuban restaurant a block down, was one of her favorites, and Tully had been hoping she could introduce Libby to it as a way of thanking her for all of her support. They blended in well with the rest of the lunch crowd, mostly from the nearby federal building and other area firms.

“I’ll have the Cuban sandwich, please,” Tully said, handing the menu back to the waiter.

“She’ll actually have the roasted chicken with a side salad, and I’ll have the same.” Libby smiled sweetly at the guy who was busy scratching out what he’d written and waited patiently for the blowup from across the table.

“Are you going to cut up the chicken when it gets here too?”

“That sandwich is, like, a gazillion calories over your limit,” Libby replied evenly, “so just accept the fact I’m looking out for you.”

“Uh-huh, and why does that sound like I’m going to be on a diet for the rest of my life? And don’t think I forgot the bit about me having a limit.”

Libby decided to change the topic. “Are the kids going to be okay with me living so close by?”

“I’m sure Bailey will love having you there to talk to, and Ralph is as easygoing as they get. I’m sure it won’t be a problem. If that’s your only concern, then feel free to move in whenever you like.”

Libby slowly stirred sweetener into a large glass of tea and felt the tightness in her chest loosen. She’d been on her own for so long that she constantly worried about the unknown. She worried about financially making it so that she had a place to live, about getting sick, about school, and about the future in general.

Tully seemed to be her exact opposite in that she didn’t act like she worried about too much. “I just don’t want to add any more to what they’re going through.”

“I want you to repeat after me.” Tully leaned closer and smiled. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Libby laughed but dutifully repeated the mantra. “The best thing that ever happened to me is that you love coffee.”

“Thanks, but you don’t have to flatter me. I’ve already told you the place is yours,” Tully joked. “But if you must, then go on. I’m not going to argue about how wonderful I am.”

The days Libby worked in the office, they followed the same lunch routine. Libby usually tried to get Tully to actually leave the office, but sometimes they sat on Tully’s sofa and ordered from the deli downstairs.

When Roxanne came in with the day’s mail, she said, “Libby just got here, if you’re interested.”

Tully whipped her head up from her reading so quickly that, forgetting she was holding the pen so close, she drew a yellow highlighter line along her face. “Is it her birthday or something?”

“No.”

“Then why the announcement?”

Roxanne turned back to the door to make sure it was closed. “She looks like she’s been crying, and she didn’t come in and tell you hello like she usually does. I just thought something was wrong.”

“Order that veggie pita thing she loves from downstairs, and tell her I need to see her.”

When Libby stepped in and closed the door, her eyes did appear red and a bit swollen. “Have a bad morning at school?” Tully asked.

Libby shook her head and just leaned against the closed door.

“Anyone in the office giving you problems?”

Again Libby shook her head. “Sorry, I’m not usually this morose, but today’s my dad’s birthday, or should I say used to be my dad’s birthday.”

“It still is, no matter that he’s not here to blow out some candles. I’m sorry I haven’t asked before now, but could you share with me what happened to your parents?” Tully asked.

“When I was Bailey’s age, my grandmother died.”

“Were you close?”

When Tully took Libby by the hand to the sofa, she went willingly. “Not really. We didn’t see her that often, and my dad was always working, but she made the best peanut butter cookies.”

“Sounds like something you aren’t going to let me eat anytime soon.”

When the tease made Libby laugh, Tully felt like she’d finally accomplished something.

“They left to go to the funeral, and because I didn’t feel well, my mom let me stay home. On the way back, driving through a bad storm, an older man lost control of his car, crossed the center line, and hit them head-on. Neither of them survived.”

When Tully wrapped her arms around Libby, she sobbed into her shoulder.

“Sometimes their birthdays and the anniversary of their deaths blindside me. I always thought that if I’d been with them my life would be so different.”

“Oh, Libby, don’t do that to yourself. If you’d been with them you might have died too, and I’m glad you didn’t.” Tully pulled back enough to wipe away Libby’s tears. “What happened to you after that?”

“Since I had no other living relatives, the state had to put me in foster care until I turned eighteen. I went to five families in that time, and then I started working so I could go to school.”

The knock on the door stopped Libby from saying anything else, and she seemed embarrassed that anyone else would see her like this.

“Hang on,” Tully said, loud enough so whoever it was could hear her. “Do me a favor, okay?”

Libby nodded.

“Take off your shoes and get comfortable. I had lunch ordered for us, and I have a lot of reading to do today, so we’re going to stay in here and take it easy.”

While they ate lunch Libby told her the rest of the story. Her time in foster care had left her heart broken, but she never lost hope that if she was patient enough she’d connect with someone like her parents had.

After lunch Tully picked up her file and started reading as Libby stretched out and closed her eyes. Putting her head in Tully’s lap and squeezing one of Tully’s hands between both of hers, Libby fell asleep.

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